Vladan Vidakovic on Wed, 31 Mar 1999 17:02:58 -0800

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Crisis spirals out of control, everybody scrambles for a quick solution

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Subject: Crisis spirals out of control, everybody scrambles for a quick solution
From: Vladan Vidakovic <vladan@ncompasslabs.com>
Date: Wed, 31 Mar 1999 17:02:58 -0800
Encoding: 359 TEXT

SALON | March 30, 1999 



BY JEFF STEIN | "We can't help every country
in every situation," Defense Secretary William
Cohen said the other day. No kidding, says a
growing chorus of critics, who are watching
NATO airstrikes worsen the Kosovo crisis they
were intended to solve. Among those critics is
George Friedman, co-author (with his wife,
Meredith,) of such books as "The Intelligence
Edge," "The Future of War" and "The Coming
War with Japan." The former director of
Louisiana State University's Center for
Geopolitical Studies, Friedman in 1996 founded
Strafor Inc., one of the fastest-moving sources
of information on global events, including the
Kosovo crisis. 

NATO's bombing campaign has been
"ridiculous," Friedman scoffs, pathetically
under-strength for the mission of fending off
Serbian ground units in Kosovo, not to mention
bending Yugoslav strongman Slobodan
Milosovic to its will. Friedman flatly rules out a
ground invasion of Kosovo to rescue what's left
of the hapless ethnic Albanians there, for the
simple reason that NATO doesn't have the tools
to pull it off, he says. 

Salon interviewed Friedman from his company
offices in Austin, Texas, as the crisis deepened,
with tens of thousands of refugees fleeing
Kosovo, Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov
calling for genocide trials -- against NATO
leaders, not Milosevic -- and India threatening
to form a tripartite alliance with China and

With all our-high tech gadgetry and air
superiority, many people are asking why we
can't destroy Serbian forces in Kosovo. 

We haven't got enough firepower. NATO's only
got about 166 ground attack aircraft in the
operation -- totally inadequate for the type of
mission that's been defined. For example, we
have between 12 and 16 A-10 antitank planes in
theater. If we assume 70 percent availability, and
two sorties a day each, that's a pretty big
country to cover. Remember in Desert Storm, it
took us six months to build up our air power,
and then a six-week campaign with about five
times as many aircraft. 

Are you saying no amount of bombing -- all
of NATO's might -- can wring victory from
this situation? 

No, I'm saying there is an amount of bombing,
but we don't have the aircraft anyway near
there to do it, and it would take us two to three
months to get there. It's not that the United
States lacks sufficient force to carry out the
mission. The problem is that they have not taken
the time to deploy those forces, and for the first
time since the Second World War, the United
States is simultaneously involved in a second air
campaign, over Iraq. We just don't have the
resources to do it. 

On your Web site, you've pointed out that the
Serbs can bring withering anti-aircraft fire
against low-flying NATO ground support
planes in Kosovo. Have they been using it at

This is a very interesting point. They are holding
back almost all of their fire, and, I think, waiting
to go out with a crescendo, perhaps opening up
suddenly with all their forces on the ground.
Their main concern has always been the security
of their forces operating in Kosovo. From their
point of view, however, the number of NATO
aircraft operating in Kosovo is so low they're
hardly worth noticing -- 12 A-10s is a joke,
that's not a mission. 

And you don't think NATO will -- or should
-- send in ground troops? 

Not unless they want to die. You've got 20,000
crack Yugoslav troops guarding the two
mountain-pass roads into Kosovo. Any attempt
to dislodge those troops would cause thousands
of casualties on our side and the mission would
probably fail. 

What would NATO troops face if they cross
into Kosovo from Macedonia? 

We're talking 20,000 to 30,000 Serb troops
operating internally in Kosovo, and another
20,000 on the Macedonia frontier. I mean, this is
ludicrous from a military point of view: We
were not ready for this air campaign, in truth,
and certainly not an invasion. 

NATO wasn't prepared for this operation? 

No. The Clinton administration believed that
Milosevic would permit Serbia to be
dismembered because of the threat of air power.
We once more have done what we do in every
war: We totally underestimate the intelligence of
our opponent. We did it with the Japanese, the
Viet Cong, with Saddam and now with
Milosevic. He wouldn't dare challenge the
United States, we thought. Well, why not? 

During the war in Bosnia, airstrikes made
Milosevic back off quickly. Why didn't he back
off this time? 

As with the Vietnamese, we didn't understand
that he was dealing with the fundamental
survival of the nation. When we hit them in
Bosnia, that was a peripheral issue. Now we are
dealing with dismemberment of the country.
What I'm getting from people in Yugoslavia is,
"When the majority of Serbs wanted to secede
from Bosnia and join Yugoslavia, you bombed
us to prevent that. When the majority of
Albanians want to withdraw from Kosovo, you
bomb us to permit that. The only common
theme is that you want to destroy Serbia." They
say, "Look, first you're going to take Kosovo,
then you're going to take Vodjovino," which is
primarily Hungarian. "You are dismembering
Serbia." Now, that's not the American intention,
that's not the American plan, but it's now the
Serbian thinking. 

Some critics say we should be outright backing
the KLA. 

We're doing it already. 

To what degree? 

Well, there are reports, for example, that British
SAS (Special Air Service) Forces have entered
Kosovo. There also are reports that U.S. Special
Forces are operating there. The doctrine of both
is never to enter these areas except in
conjunction with indigenous forces, which in
this case is the KLA. 

How much credibility do you give those

I have no doubt we have special forces operating
in Kosovo. Past behavior would indicate that we
would be in there to conduct on-the-ground
intelligence, battle damage assessment and
targeting capabilities with lasers. So I would be
stunned if we went into this without those

There have also been reports that the mission
led by U.S. Ambassador William Walker in
January to investigate mass murders secretly
left behind electronic ground locator devices
on potential air targets. 

I am sure -- I hope -- that we have worked for
the past several months to put both an
intelligence infrastructure and personnel on the
ground. And that would mean that we are
cooperating with the KLA, because to move
around the country would require their help. I
don't have any secret information to that effect,
but I'd bet the house on it. 

In the present situation, can our Green Berets
or similar units be effective against the Serbs? 

They can certainly harass the Serbs. 

There's no realistic way the KLA can defeat
the Serbian army? 

There's no way, even with American air power.
If somebody wanted Kosovo to be independent,
they should've started a year ago, smuggling in
weapons to the KLA. Now people want a
three-day solution, and it's not possible. 

When the U.S. military was first resisting
involvement in the Balkans back in 1993,
there was a joke about the Pentagon hanging a
big banner around the building saying, "We
do deserts, not mountains." Is that the

We do Arabs, we don't do Serbs. I really have to
say that. One of the reason the Israelis are so
successful is that they get to fight the Syrians
and the Egyptians. I don't know how well they'd
do against the Serbs. The Serbs fought the
Waffen SS to a standstill in World War II. The
Russians invaded Hungary, but they wouldn't
touch Yugoslavia. And don't forget, most of the
Yugoslav officers were trained by us, in the
1970s and '80s. I saw them at Fort Leavenworth
and other places. 

It seems the White House went off
half-cocked on this one. 

What happened was, the administration was
convinced Milosevic was bluffing, that as soon
as the bombs started to fall, he would buckle. No
matter what anybody told them -- including us,
that it was crazy -- they believed he would not
accept an air campaign. So they launched into
an air campaign that they were unable to carry

There seems to be a parallel here with
Somalia, where the White House stormed in
with its heart, instead of its head. 

The variable to focus on here is the illusion of
air power. In Vietnam we believed that the
North Vietnamese would give up the dream of a
united Vietnam in order to avoid a bombing
campaign. Instead, they stepped up the tempo
and increased our losses, which we found
unacceptable. The precise message Milosevic got
from that is that the only thing we're willing to
do against him is an air campaign, and we're not
serious. Once again a Democratic administration
has set a strategic goal, and when the military
people told them the cost, instead of backing off
from the goal, they decided to do it on the cheap.
They can't afford the price now, so they're
pretending the price they can afford to pay will
do the job. 

What's the endgame? 

A face-saving cease-fire. 

Which will come when? After the Serbs have
killed or run all the Albanians out of Kosovo? 

Which will come when the Russians and the
French decide to make Belgrade accept the
cease-fire. Right now, Belgrade thinks it has
time on its side -- they're the belligerent ones
now. When the Russians came to Belgrade last
night they called them "scum." Washington
doesn't have time. Washington has gone to
Primakov and said, "What will it take to get you
to help us end this?" And Primakov said, the
[International Monetary Fund]. 

We paid in advance? 

There will be a lot more money involved, believe
me. This is far from the last tranche. 

So what's next in this stalemate? 

The Serbs are running against the clock. There's
going to be a cease-fire somewhere in the next
72 hours. The Russians got their IMF loan, and
they're sending Primakov. Chirac is sending his
delegation. The Serbs are now at the endgame
where they've got to close this thing down.
What the Serbs are attempting to do is to clear
out as much of Kosovo as they can to create a
situation on the ground, after the cease-fire,
that gives them what they want ... which is to
retain Kosovo. Their reading of it is that the
basic problem is demographic, and they're busy
readjusting the demographics. As we move
toward a cease-fire, the tempo speeds up. The
Serbs will increase their brutality. 

Do you expect the Russians or the French to
help NATO out of this mess? 

Neither the Russians nor the French are
particular eager to save the American hash. This
administration is looking very stupid right now,
and the Russians and the French are delighted to
let us dangle slowly, slowly in the wind. Both
the Russians and the French want this to end,
but with as much embarrassment to the
Americans as possible. The Germans want this
over, too. Any American call to attack into
Kosovo would involve German troops fighting in
Serbia again. For God's sake, this is a Social
Democratic government backed by the Greens.
So the Germans want this over soon, and so do
the Italians. 

What will a cease-fire look like? 

There will be a peace-keeping force. The United
States will not be included in it, Germany will
not be included in it, Great Britain will not be
included in it. The NATO members in it will be
the French, I suspect, and the Ukrainians and
the Greeks. 

You sound pretty optimistic that it will be
over soon, because it's in everybody's interest. 

The United States has been militarily
stalemated, which in this case is the same thing
as saying it's been militarily defeated. The
United States does not have an escalation
option, therefore it has to end it. 

What do you make of India saying it might
enter into a tripartite alliance with China and
Russia because of the bombing? 

It's extremely important. What you're seeing
here is the whole world basically saying the
United States has lost its mind, that it's
randomly going around entering into crises, and
God knows what's next. The Indians are taking
a look at the way the balance of power is
shaping up in the rest of the world, and they're
seeing two great alliances: the U.S. and England,
and everybody else. They'd rather be with
everybody else. 

What's the obit on this operation going to

The Albanians will be mostly displaced to
Albania. They will be slowly let in, and the
Russians and the French will preside over the
entire operation. And three weeks later Bill
Clinton will have another moral cause. 
SALON | March 30, 1999 

Jeff Stein writes about national security issues from Washington. 

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